Moldbug has a good post on the suicide of boy computer genius and copyright infringer Aaron Swartz. His appraisal is that Swartz picked the wrong target, out of taking the “speak truth to power” and “stick it to the man” rhetoric of the left too literally. A career as a leftist agitator- Moldbug sticks with the more commonly used “activist”- requires being aware of who you can go after and who you can’t.
I’m guessing that Swartz as a former boy computer genius lacked a finely calibrated social sense that allows a person to understand social positioning. Leftism is based on a complicated set of signals in which nothing is explicit and the implicitness of things is quite murky and nuanced. This is largely what “Nineteen eighty-four” is about- the difficulty of understanding and responding appropriately to signals when everything is the opposite of what it seems. Winston is an intelligent, rational person of a literal mind and fails to do this. His work pal Sim, an enthusiastic supporter of the system, is an even earlier casualty.
As the Sam Elliot character says in “The Big Lebowski”, “Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes the bear eats you.” And yet people go bear hunting all the time. Leftism is inherently predatory. Things must be hunted, and while hunting deer will feed you, it has no glamor or honor. In primitive societies young men are expected to hunt vicious beasts and bring back their skins to wear. What Moldbug describes as “hoeing” or “vine cutting”- shaming and humiliating to keep them in line, is the tedious work of teachers, human resource managers, lawyers and journalists. It is no fit work for the inventor of RSS. A man like Swartz- really a young man, hardly more than a boy, must hunt and kill something bigger.
Moldbug says in a leftist society, all the targets that can be attacked have been attacked. And yet things still must be attacked and defeated, to continue to prove its vitality. Sometimes the whole thing just runs out of gas- say Russia by 1960. The US does not so thoroughly crush all its opponents, it finds it more useful to keep some around.
But let’s take the case of a young, ambitious NKVD officer in Moscow in the 30′s. If he takes people down, he gains power. If he takes on the wrong people, he finds himself on the train to Siberia. It’s a dangerous game, which makes it all the more exciting. Many officers of the secret police wiped out their enemies, only to find themselves in the same snare shortly after. But it didn’t stop many from playing. And if you can’t take on respected leftists and respected leftist institutions, well there wasn’t anything else in Moscow in Stalin’s time.
But Swartz was a computer nerd, and not a combatant. He bit off more than he could chew, and folded when things got hot. He should have gotten an aggressive lawyer and angled for a sympathetic judge, made a lot of angry and defiant pronouncements at press conferences, and held out to the bitter end. I understand what he wanted- leftist glory, not just the pale esteem that geniuses get. How much cooler his life would have been. How much more the girls would have swooned for him.
The desire to dominate and control others is deeply engrained in the human character. In decent societies this urge comes under some control. In leftist society it is given free reign to produce the worst. It’s easy to see what happens to people on the bottom. But people higher up get caught in the web also, although few so spectacularly as Aaron Swartz.